Monday, May 29, 2006

The Passing of Alex Toth - Part 2

Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

Alex Toth got his start in the mid-40s, including some work for Famous Funnies Publications. A good way to see some early (and cheap) Toth art is to track down a copy of Heroic Comics. This is a very strange (by today’s standards) series depicting real life acts of heroism, usually in a two or three page story with a rotating cast of artists including Toth, Sid Greene and Fred Guardineer. It’s a pretty silly title, and Toth’s artwork may not be instantly recognizable, but they are a fun example of Golden Age goodness and can usually be found on eBay for under $5.

A year or so later, Toth began doing work for DC/National – including stints on the Green Lantern strip and All-Star Comics. Funnily enough, while Toth’s artwork was quite strong, it didn’t really seem full energized until the introduction of Streak the Wonderdog in Green Lantern. This was perhaps the first indication that Toth strengths might be away from the cape and tights crowd. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big western fan, and for my money the high watermark of the genre was Toth’s run on Johnny Thunder in All-American Western. I have been picking these up whenever I see them for over a decade, and I am one issue (#121) shy of putting together a complete run. I’ll never understand why DC hasn’t given this strip the ‘Archives’ treatment, but anyone looking for inexpensive samples should track down a copy of Showcase #72 or the Johnny Thunder reprint title from the early 70s. Toth worked on other DC western titles, such as Jimmy Wakely and Dale Evans, but it is apparent that he preferred working on Bob Kanigher’s Johnny Thunder stories than any others at that time. The page I’ve included is a good example of Toth’s stylish approach to western storytelling.

Toth’s work really diversified in the 50s, as he worked for several companies in a wide range of genres. Standard/Nedor/Better Comics is nearly forgotten today, but this company brought us the likes of Black Terror and Xela airbrush covers in the 40s. By the 50s, under the Standard imprint, they published a variety on non-superhero titles including ultra violent war titles such as Joe Yank, schlocky horror titles such as The Unseen and plenty of old fashioned romance books. These books can be tough to find, but a little effort may be rewarded by strong artwork by Toth, Mike Sekowsky and Ross Andru. Romance comics are all but ignored by many of today’s comic book fans, but they once represent a vital part of the industry. A good story is a good story, and Toth brought a real freshness to the romance genre. The example I’ve included here is the first page to a short 3-page story from Today’s Romance #6 from 1952. I’d love to see an inexpensive collection of Toth’s romance work, but that’s not likely to happen.

Later in the decade, Toth began doing quite a bit of work for Dell. This included many movie adaptations for the Four Color title. Although I stated earlier that Toth is not truly associated with one character or series, he comes closest with Zorro. These adaptations of the Disney TV show allowed Toth to explore Old California and instill a good mixture of action and humour. Perhaps more than any other Toth work, these stories are a feast for the eyes as the reader is treated to an incredible sense of movement. These stories were reprinted in black and white (with Toth contributing to the new tones) first by Eclipse (I belive) and then later by Image. For anyone interested in getting a glimpse of what makes Toth so great, I strong recommend these reprints, as the black and white is a vast improvement on the colour versions.


J'onn J'onzz, Martian Manhunter said...

The reason these are backwards is so that we can read it unabridged without having to go up and down between posts, correct. Toth shall be missed.

Jesse Hamm said...

Great retrospective; thanks. I linked to it from my blog.

Two recent collections featuring Toth's romance material for Standard are The Alex Toth Reader #1 and #2.

Scott M said...

cj'onn. That's what I was trying to do, so that it would read ok from top to bottom. I think that there are also limits of pics per post - but I may be confusing this with another site.

Jesse - thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it. It was a bit of a rough job and quick overview. Thanks for linking it as well. I'll have to pick up those Toth Readers.